David Spett is a senior at Medill, the prestigious school of journalism at Northwestern University. He is a columnist for The Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper where he looked into the use of unnamed sources by the controversial dean, John Lavine. As dean, Lavine has been promoting a fully integrated marketing program over the protests of some students and alumni. In the Spring 2007 issue of Medill Magazine, Lavine wrote a Letter from the Dean, basic front filler material, where he quotes two anonymous students at the school. Using some of the information in the letter, Spett tracked down one quote as feedback to the Winter’s “Advertising: Building Brand Image” class. He contacted all the students in the class to ask if they had given Lavine the quote. No one admitted it, even when Spett promised not to publish their name. This is especially odd considering the student is quoted as saying:
I came to Medill because I want to inform people and make things better. Journalism is the best way for me to do that, but I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I’ve taken, and I learned many things in it that apply as much to truth-telling in journalism as to this campaign to save teenage drivers.
It certainly sounds like a life changing experience. The student came to the school to inform people and make things better, and this class let them do exactly that. Maybe the student forgot. Well, don’t expect Lavine to remember where he got the quote either, because he doesn’t remember. However, he insists “I wouldn’t have quoted it if I didn’t have it.” Except of course for the fact, that he did quote it, and in fact, does not have it.
The great irony here is journalism versus marketing. It is not just the dean using anonymous quotes, it is a dean selecting quotes lauding programs that he championed over opposition that he cannot prove were actually made. It is indicative of the distinction between marketing and journalism that is essential, and that Lavine is so eager to blur. Good journalism is about intellectual honesty and transparency, good marketing is about convincing people to buy what you are selling. Well, dean Lavine, I don’t thing people are buying what you’re selling.